World Council of Churches leader calls for healing, rights probe

World Council of Churches leader calls for healing, rights probe

By Nora O. Gamolo, Senior Desk Editor, Manila Times

By Nora O. Gamolo, Senior Desk Editor, Manila Times

A ranking official of the World Council of Churches criticized the US-backed antiterrorism campaign in the Philippines, saying it could lead to human rights abuses.

Dr. Samuel Kobia is general secretary of the Geneva-based council, the single biggest ecumenical organization of Christian churches in the world. The organization comprises more than 340 churches and denominations that claim about 550 million Christian members in more than 120 countries.

“We are deeply concerned with the way the US government supports the Philippine government milita­rily, and the way it conducts its antiterrorism campaign,” Kobia told The Manila Times in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

“Sometimes, it is used as a pretext in violating human rights with impunity as long as [the US government] secures [its] work on antiter­rorism,” he explained.

Kobia admitted that he was aware that the US clergy is lobbying to stop all military aid to the Arroyo administration. Lately, it scored a relatively big hit when the US Senate decreed that the supplemental military aid to the Philippines would be stopped if extrajudicial killings and human rights violations continued.

Kobia said he is keeping track of the human rights situation in the Philippines. He added that he has read about the Human Security Act and the new rules on the writ of amparo.

“It’s one thing to enact and another thing to implement,” Kobia said.  “We have to sit on the ground and see how it works. We want to find out how effectively it does its work, what mechanisms have been put in place to make it work and how are the people judging how it works. How the government works on the ground is really what is important.”

Many officers of the World Council of Churches have come from the Philippines, and the group has been instrumental in bringing to international attention alleged violations of human rights in the country.

On this trip, however, the council delegation has not met anybody from the Supreme Court or the Department of Justice.

Kobia, who arrived on Saturday, is expected to deliver a keynote speech today at the start of the 22nd General Convention of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines in Quezon City. Before he leaves on Thursday, Kobia will meet with Christian leaders, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

A Kenyan pastor, he is here for the third time. He first visited in 1975, or three years after martial law was declared in the Philippines, then in 1981. “Those were difficult years,” Kobia said, adding, “I still see similarities with what people went through that time [and what is happening today]-many political prisoners, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of people.”

“The press is at least more robust, and there are ways to keep people more informed.” Kobia added that he is aware that the frequency of killings has apparently gone down, but is counted in hundreds overall.

The World Council of Churches is reputedly active in the struggle for human rights, peace and reconciliation. “We accompany people in the struggle,” was how Kobia explained the council’s work.

For one, the council has issued a statement on the murder of Bishop Alberto Ramento and other cases of extrajudicial killings, and communicated this officially to President Gloria Arroyo.

“When a bishop of a member church is killed, we have to be concerned.  We are still waiting for a major change in the situation [but] we didn’t get [an official] reply,” Kobia said of the government’s response to the bishop’s case. Ramento was called “Bishop of the People” by his flock in the Philippine Independent Church.

When asked why the council facilitated Filipino human rights advocates’ bid for the UN Human Rights Council to probe alleged violations in the country, Kobia said, “The Church is never known for violence. Our call is for nonviolence. We support [Filipinos’] participation in the UN Human Rights Council. We need to provide this space and facilitate it.”

The Philippines, he said, could learn from South Africa when it established a truth and reconciliation commission that also required investigations of every individual case.